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The Old Mill in Vernon
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Monet's house and garden at Giverny
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The XIIth c. castle keep in Vernon
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Visits, indeed, but there are so many other things to do in Vernon
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Walking and cycling around Vernon
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Museums in Vernon (paintings by Monet) and Giverny
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A walk in the streets of Giverny
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The water lily pond at Giverny
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Tourelles castle in Vernon
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Giverny in the land of the Rising Sun : Kitagawa

Monet and Japan

 

You have certainly heard about Monet's house and garden in Giverny, and you may even have visited them. But did you know there exists an almost exact replica in Japan? Have a look at the photos below. You think you can recognise Giverny ? Well, you are mistaken, they were taken several thousand kilometres away from Giverny!


Monet's house and the bridge - Kitagawa, Japan [1]


In order to mark the Millennium, Mr Gérald Van Der Kemp had decided to carry out a project named 'Jardin de Monet Marmottan au Village de Kitagawa' (Garden of Monet Marmottan in the village of Katagawa), i.e. to replicate Monets's garden in Giverny in the little Japanese town of Kitagawa-mura as accurately a possible.
(You may remember that Gérald Van Der Kemp, former head curator of Versailles, was also the first curator of Monet Foundation in Giverny; and as such, he was in charge of the enormous restoration work required to open the estate to visitors.)

The Flower Garden in Kitagawa [2, 3]

It might have seemed unthinkable to duplicate a patch of Normandy in a very different cultural and climatic environment and yet a visitor, just back from Giverny says that the Kitagawa garden "is quite close to the real thing with a very nice lake complete with an assortment of Japanese and European plant life."


The water garden in Kitagawa [4]

Kitagawa was indeed designed as a copy of Giverny: the garden includes the same pathways, flowers, plant life, pond, and (of course) water lilies as the original. Besides, authenticity was ensured thanks to the help and advice of Giverny's head gardener.

 

The 'Jardin de Monet Marmottan au Village de Kitagawa' (Garden of Monet Marmottan in the village of Katagawa), since this is its official name, is located in the small town of Kitagawa-mura, in the Kochi province, on an island in south Japan, south from Hiroshima, south-west from Osaka.
(Internet website : http://www.kitagawamura.net/monet/ )

 

 

It is also in this same little town that Nakaoka Shintaro, one of the founders of modern Japan, was born in 1838.
In the mid 19th century, feudal Japan had existed for over 250 years in self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world under the autocratic rule of Shoguns. Nakaoka Shintaro, a pro-imperial and so an anti-shogun activist, was one of the reformers who imposed to return power to the Imperial family under the new Meiji Emperor and thus brought feudal Japan to an end.
With the change in government, Japan abruptly leapt into modernization and in a few short years, the country made the transition from a medieval society to an industrialised one.


Everyone knows how much the Japanese admire Monet and therefore it is not difficult to believe that the Garden of Monet in Kitagawa was a success attracting huge crowds : as many as 200,000 people flocked there the first year. Here is how a Japanese visitor describes Kitagawa :" They say it is a stunning French garden, but what surprised me most were the many rare flowers, and people and more people were everywhere."

Water liles ymphéas in Kitagawa or in Giverny ? Who can say? [5, 6,7]
Only the photo in the middle is from Giverny

Completing the garden was a challenge: the setting facing the sea, the lay of the land with steep hills , the weather conditions that lead to a different biotope, tropical typhoons, all these made the job very difficult, says Mr Gilbert Vahé, the head gardener in Giverny. But he also makes it clear that "every element that could hinder the completion was turned into something positive,  whether it was the hills, the sea nearby or the weather." Gilbert Vahé explains for instance that it was possible to add to the range of plants and flowers in the garden because of the weather and the difference in biotope, or to use the sea in order to create long-distance vistas. "Typhoons are the only hostile element that remains" he adds. "This is why I admire these gardeners who constantly have to start all over again and fight against natural elements."

The Water Garden - Kitagawa [8, 9]

Well, why are Japanese people so much interested in Monet? It is certainly because there exist parallels and similarities between Japanese art and impressionism.

It is well known that Monet, like many other European artists of the time, was influenced by Japanese painters. He took part in the famous 'Japanese dinners' during which the participants used to talk about Japanese art , he was close to Hayashi Tadamasa, one of the main contemporary masters, etc… And of course , all this affected his painting. One simply has to look at the portrait of his wife, Camille, dressed as a Japanese woman, but more generally some of Monet's ranges of colours and themes, movement and framing were
borrowed from Japanese artists.

Monet could not resist the temptation to paint his wife in a bright red kimono, with an open fan in front of her the face, exactly similar to Utamaro's beauties.
Japonaise, 1876 Fine Arts Museum, Boston [10]


For Monet, modern painting did not simply mean painting modern subjects but also finding a way to show the perceptions that the rhythm of modern life seemed to be accelerating. The study of 19th century Japanese prints, which also show modern life, helped the Master develop his conception of impressionism: the use of flat planes of bright colour, asymmetry, and the telescoping of near and far, all this proved Monet that there existed other pictorial ways than the harmonious cool tones, the balanced compositions, and slow rhythms that are omnipresent in landscape painting before Monet.

Monet had a collection of 250 Japanese prints (displayed in his house in Giverny) whose colours, shapes and techniques fascinated him, especially those colours and techniques found in Hiroshige's and Hokusai's prints, two masters of Japanese painting.

Hiroshige : Numazu, Twilight [11]
Claude Monet : Poplars on the Banks of the River Epte in Autumn (1891)
[12]

.
Hodogaya : On the Tokaido road, ca. 1834- [13] - Claude Monet : Poplars in the sun, 1891 [14]

Eastern influence is also to be found in Monet's garden: in a few years he completely transformed the place, designed new alleys, planted numerous species of exotic plants, substituted Japanese crabs and oriental cherries for apple trees. From China and Japan, he had bamboos, exotic water lilies and rare plants shipped. In 1924, Georges Truffaut (a famous horticulturist) wrote in "Jardinage" (Gardening magazine) that, in Monet's garden, plants were placed without any previous plan, in an asymmetric way and this clearly showed strong attraction for the Far East.

But the most conspicuous connection between Claude Monet's garden and Japanese gardens is obviously the bridge, called the "Japanese Bridge" since it has the same arch as those in Japan. (Note however the green colour while 'genuine' ones are usually red.). Such bridges are called "moon bridges " because light rays and moonshine can pass under them.
Drawing on this Japanese concept , Gilbert Vahé says, Monet designed the lake with a narrow part, shaded by bamboos so that light rays would pass under the bridge and light the water lilies growing in the shade of the bamboos.


Left:: Hiroshige, Inside the Kameido-Tenjin sanctuary (in Tokyo) [15]. right: Hokusai : Under the Mannen bridge in Fukagawa [16] Below: Claude Monet, The water lily pond, harmony in green [17]

Deeply inspired by Japanese art, which Europe discovered after the beginning of the Meiji era which opened up Japan to Western influence, this is how Monet is an obvious link between both artistic cultures. Thus, one better understands why Japanese people have developed a passion for Monet and are attracted by the 'garden of Monet Marmottan in the village of Katagawa'.

Giverny or Kitagawa ?

Kitagawa garden is a good replica of the one in Giverny, faithful to Monet's by the not only in spirit but also almost in the letter. It is sometimes far from simple to know which one the following pictures show. Do you want to try?

In each pair of photos, which one was taken in Giverny ?

 

=

The first photo in this pair shows Giverny and the second Kitagawa [18, 19]

Yes   No

Not very easy, is it? Even Monet might have hesitated.

 


=

The first photo is Giverny and the second Kitagawa [20,21]

Yes   No


It seems easier this time, but is it?

 


=

The first photo in this pair shows Giverny and Kitagawa is Nr 2 [22, 23]

  Yes   No

Isn't it pretty hard to see the difference?


=

The first photo in this pair shows Giverny [24, 25]

Yes   No

In which garden can you find the most beautiful water lilies?


=

The first photo in this pair was shot in Giverny, the 2nd in Japan [26, 27]

 Yes No

What a difficult choice!

 

 

 

 


=

Photo #1 :The Japanese bridge in Giverny and the Japanese bridge in Japan (photo #2) [28, 29]

Yes No

Few are those who are not going to be mistaken here…


=


The first photo shows the water lily pond in Giverny [3
0,31]

Yes   No

Are these the hills of Kitagawa or of Giverny ?

 


=

The first photo in this pair shows Giverny and the second kitagawa [32,33]

Yes   No

One clearly realises that Kitagawa garden is not a simple pastiche, it does re-create the spirit of Monet's garden.

 

 

A very special thank to Mr Flint who allowed us to use many of the photos shown here, without which we would not have been able to write this page. Other photos of Monet's garden at Kitagawa can be seen in Mr Flint's website.

Later note: the site doesn't seem to work any more. However, I leave the URL, in case it is revived one day... (http://flintyinjapan.typepad.com/photos/the_monet_gardens/index.html)



A few pages about the 'original' garden in Giverny
The making of Claude Monet's garden
Giverny, where crossbreeding takes place
Monet, the Seine and Normandy
List of plants and flowers in Monet's garden
Calendar of flowering times

and "an American Giverny"...